The presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature said he has asked County Executive Steve Bellone to explore a variety of options to keep open the county nursing home in Yaphank following recent setbacks to a proposed $23 million sale to a private operator.
"I don't want to close the place," Legis. William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) said Friday. "If there is any way to still operate it as a nursing home, that is my position."
Lindsay said he has called Bellone to reopen discussions on a broader range of options beyond the current sale proposal or a shutdown because the county can only afford to subsidize the home until April. The county has agreed to sell the 264-bed John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility to private operators Israel and Samuel Sherman.
"I think we have to move very quickly -- the unions have to be involved and we have to look at different management groups or one of the hospitals -- because we're are going to run out of money," Lindsay said.
Lindsay also said he was "shocked" by a unanimous vote against the sale by a key state health committee on Thursday. The committee of the Public Health and Planning Council is scheduled to vote again on the sale next month, according to a state Health Department spokesman, and the full council has put off its vote until April.
County lawmakers say the Bellone administration has assured them that the state generally is encouraging counties to sell their nursing homes. "We were told that the state wants us out of the nursing home business but their vote was to keep us in," Lindsay said.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the Bellone administration feels "the sale option is still a very live possibility. What happened on Thursday was a deferral, not a denial. We're optimistic a sale will be approved at the next meeting."The administration can discuss only short-term options with the buyers until a sale is approved, Schneider said.
The Brookhaven Town zoning board also has denied a permit that would have allowed the buyers to operate the complex as a private nursing home.Arthur Levin, a member of the state health panel, said it is unusual for the full council not to accept the recommendations of its advisory committee, but the council voted to defer the decision because members decided they needed more information.
"The council felt rushed," said Levin, director of the Center for Medical Consumers, a Manhattan-based nonprofit that provides information about the safety and efficacy of medical treatments. "This was an emergency application."
Levin said a council lawyer had advised panel members that under the law, they had to limit their review to four criteria: "character of the applicant, competency, financial viability and need in the community."
During the meeting, witnesses testified about the effect of a sale on indigent patients. Opponents to the sale also say Foley provides care for long-term patients that most nursing home operators do not want to serve because of the cost.
Michael Balboni, executive director of the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association, said, "What happens with the residents is really not in the purview of this panel," though he said the Shermans would try to address that concern.
Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), who opposes the sale, called the council's decision to put off a vote "political. After the committee voted 10-0 and [then to] see the full council change, I question that."
Dan Farrell, president of the Association of Municipal Employees, which represents nursing home workers, said he was encouraged by Lindsay's move.
"All along, we've tried to work together with them but haven't gotten much cooperation," said Farrell, whose union opposes the sale. "If they are willing to sit down, maybe we can work things out."